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7-Misc: Canadian National Farmers Union calls for compensation for "genetic pollution"



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TITLE:  Canadian farmers seek compensation for "genetic
        pollution"
SOURCE: Nature Biotechnology Vol. 17, by Brian Hoyle
        sent by AGNET, Canada
DATE:   August 1999

----------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ ------------------


Canadian farmers seek compensation for "genetic pollution"

Brian Hoyle, a science writer based in Bedford, Nova Scotia,
Canada, writes that five years after genetically modified (GM)
crops became available for use in Canada, the Canadian National
Farmers Union (NFU; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan) is lobbying the
Canadian federal government to legislate industry compensation
for unintended genetic alteration of crops. NFU members, which
include both organic farmers and those who grow GM crops, decry
the "genetic pollution that has infringed on the livelihoods of
farmers or the general public."

The move follows the NFU's annual meeting last December, in which
a resolution was passed opposing the use of GM organisms. NFU
spokesperson Stewart Wells was quoted as saying, agricultural
biotechnology is a "gigantic experiment." To Wells, an organic
farmer from the province of Saskatchewan, it is the airborne
contamination of his canola with GM varieties of canola that is a
problem.

Ann Clark, an agronomist at the University of Guelph in the
province of Ontario, was quoted as saying, "Canola pollen can
move up to 8 kilometers; [pollen from] corn and potatoes, about 1
kilometer," citing New Scientist (vol. 160, issue 2158, 1998)
"Wind is only one of the ways pollen moves. Canola pollen, for
example, is carried by pollinators."

The Canadian government's national standards for organic
agriculture, announced in April, prohibit the use of GM organisms
but have yet to define a tolerance level for genetic pollution.
Under the threat of airborne contamination, Wells and other
organic farmers could lose their organic certification because it
will be impossible to guarantee that their produce is free of
genetically engineered traits.

The story says that organic crop production represents a
significant segment of the Canadian agri-food industry,
approaching Canadian $1 billion dollars (US$0.68 billion) in
sales annually. Sales are growing at 20% per year, according to
the Canadian Organic Advisory Board. However, the nation's
farmers have already lost markets for canola in Europe -- from 83
tonnes in '94/95 to 20 tonnes in '97/98, according to Canola
Council of Canada figures--some of which is attributed to
uncertainty over whether the Canadian canola is genetically pure.
Clark was quoted as saying, "Exports are being vastly hurt right
now." The story says further lossses in canola markets would be a
blow to the Canadian economy; canola seed exports accounted for
22% of Canada's agrifood exports in 1997.

Moreover, farmers who cultivate GM varieties also claim to be
affected by "genetic pollution." Tony Huethers, a canola farmer
in the province of Alberta, planted several GM cultivars
purchased from Monsanto (St. Louis, MO) in 1997. One field was
sown with Quest, a Roundup (glyphosate)-resistant cultivar.
Another field, 30 meters away across an intervening road, was
sown with Innovator, a Liberty (glufosinate)-resistant cultivar,
and 45A71, a cultivar resistant to Pursuit (imazethapyr).

The intervening distance between the fields exceeded the standard
buffer zone of 6 meters. Two applications of Roundup herbicide
last year to the field sown with Innovator and 45A71 killed all
the weeds but revealed glyphosate-resistant canola in the field
sown with the other cultivars. The population was thickest near
the road. Airborne dispersal of pollen from the glyphosate
resistant plants was suspected, given that the nearest source of
natural pollination, a commercial bee hive, was 13 kilometers
away. 



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